Bermuda Grass Lawn Care: Best Practices
No lawn is the same since the soil conditions, climate and terrain can all differ. You may therefore need to adjust these Bermuda grass care practices a little to suit your own lawn.
Bermuda grass is one of the most commonly used lawn grass all over the world, particularly in tropical and sub-tropical regions. This grass will virtually grow and grow quite rapidly on any soil type as long as there is enough sunlight and drainage. Another characteristic of Bermuda grass is that it is quite drought resistant and also can recover itself quickly from damages.
Therefore this grass is also commonly used in high traffic areas. The only negative about the grass is, it can not grow well under shades and therefore not quite suitable for shady lawns. It also takes on a brownish tinge during the winter months.
The Bermuda family of grasses is considered to be one of the most challenging ones to mow. Rapid growth means that one needs to mow frequently, more so during summer time. The mowing frequency also depends on nitrogen fertilization, rainfall and irrigation. Since the grass grows rapidly and can easily invade flower beds, it requires frequent edging along walkways and driveways.
Bermuda grass can grow both above the surface of the soil as well as below the surface. Actually this aggressive property of rapid growth that makes Bermuda grass a favorable turf grass, also makes it a weed at the same time. In order to get the best results, it is recommended that you keep the grass at low heights (1 to 2 inches for common Bermuda grass, less for hybrids) and mow frequently.
You should first get your soil tested through an authorized agency in your locality. This will determine the requirement of nutrients (i.e. nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, as well as lime) for your soil type. You should do soil tests every 2-3 years to find out your lawn's nutrient requirements. While submitting the soil sample for test, you should also specify your Bermuda lawn grass type.
You must fertilize using lime or sulphur based on the soil test. The Bermuda grass grows best when the PH level is at 6 or 6.5. For soils with higher PH, sulphur can be added to bring it down. For every 100 sq ft of lawn you can use 5 lbs of pelletized sulphur. However make sure the air temperature is below 75 degrees Fahrenheit before applying it. Do a PH check again in a few months time. A significant drop in PH levels may take a few years to come by. Soils which are typically acidic in nature can make do with lime applications.
However if you can not get your soil tested, then use a complete fertilizer which has nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium in the ratio of 4-1-2 or even 3-1-2. Bags of all commercial fertilizers have this ratio printed (denoting the percentage of each component). The amount of fertilizer to be applied varies through the season (from 1 pound of nitrogen per 100 square feet in Spring and Summer to 0.5 pound of nitrogen in per 1000 square feet in Fall and none in the Winter).
Typically a lawn of Bermuda grass should receive 2-4 pounds of actual nitrogen per 1000 sq ft of turf. This rate depends on the soil type, that is, lawns on clay soils would require lower rates while lawns grown on sandy soils would need higher rates. You can also apply a soluble iron product which will enhance the green color without encouraging additional growths. In fact you can also figure out if the lawn is deficient in iron if you see a yellowish appearance during the growing season. This could also be due to excessive soil phosphorous or a high PH. In such a situation, you must add iron between the spring and summer fertilizer applications, for getting the color back quickly. However you also have to adopt a long term approach to tackle the entire problem.
During early spring too you might encounter such a yellowish appearance on your lawn, which could mean either iron or manganese deficiency. In this situation, spraying iron sulphate mixed with water at a 2:3 or 2:5 gallons ratio per 1000 sq ft , can get the color back. For manganese deficiencies, you can use manganese sulphate. Yellowing should also reduce with the increase in soil temperatures.
Check out Bermuda Grass Fertilizers
to know about the different types of fertilizers, their use, when to apply them and how much to apply in different seasons.
Ascertaining when the Bermuda grass is in need of water is quite easy if you can develop an eye for it. The ends of the blades droop a little or picks up a bluish tinge when in need of water. Another method of determining this is by walking on the lawn late in the evening. If they are well hydrated the grass in the footprints will rebound, and if they do not rebound it means they are in need of moisture and you can water the next morning.
However, they are quite drought resistant in nature and need watering only once or twice a week. The other advantage of watering it only once a week is that it gives the grass a chance to reach deeper into the soil looking for its own source of water once it exhausts what's available. This not only makes the grass stronger but also healthier and greener.
An effective technique you can use to check if the watering you have done is sufficient, is by pushing a screw driver through the ground in the watered area. If it sinks through a good six inches with ease it means the watering has been good enough for the grass.
Aeration is a sort of maintenance and repair work that needs to be done annually on the lawn. It helps the grass rejuvenate having gone through its share of wear and tear over the period of one whole year. The process involves poking countless holes into the ground. This helps in reaching more and more nutrients besides oxygen and water, all the way down to the roots.
There are essentially two types of aerators. One of them comes with spikes while the other with plugs. However, when you are renting one, you should go for a Core aerator. It consists of hollow spoons that help pull up soil plugs when moved across the lawn.
The best time for aeration is in early summer when the lawn grows the fastest. The entire process should be repeated twice, first in one direction and then in another, the second being at right angles to the first one. The process is very similar to the one involved in mowing, but this particular technique will get the requisite twelve individual holes for one square foot of lawn. After the aerating process is complete, you must apply a good quantity of fertilizer and water which acts as a balm and helps recuperate after the harrowing procedure.
June - August
Thatch is a collection of dead plant matters. Unless it becomes thick enough (like 0.5 inches) when the Bermuda roots start growing in them, it is usually not a problem. However thatches should be removed every two to three years through aerification and/or dethatching.
You can also consider dethatching when the thatch layer is greater than half an inch. You can obtain the best results if you use a vertical mower or a dethatcher with a 2-3 inches blade with spacing set at a quarter inch depth. Using one with an inch of blade spacing may cause severe injury to the lawn. You must collect and dispose off the removed thatch properly after completion of the process.
Early summer is the right time for cultivation since moisture is usually not limiting and growth is optimum, and soil temperature reaches around 80°F. If mowing of the grass
is done correctly and consistently, then thatching doesn't usually pose a threat.
Aerification is a great way to increase the flow of air, water and nutrients into the root areas of Bermuda grass. If the thatches do not get removed after aerification, then mow at the correct height and remove the dead top, and then rake the lawn thoroughly with a metal tined leaf rake to remove the thatch. If you are unwilling to take up this cumbersome physical work, then you can also use Lazyman liquid de-thatcher to ensure that excess thatch does not accumulate on the soil.
If the thickness of the thatch is more than .5 inch (which can happen in case of Hybrid Bermuda Grass), then you can make use of a vertical mower or a de-thatcher that you can rent from a local store. However you will need to use it very carefully as it can also remove the top soil unless used properly.
Prevention is always better than cure. And the best prevention method to stop weeds affecting your Bermuda lawn is to properly fertilize, water and mow the lawn on an ongoing basis. However if you wake up to a situation where your lawn is already affected by weeds, then herbicide application would be the way to go.
But there are different types of herbicides including pre and post emergent ones, and the application method depends on the time of the year. For instance, the pre emergent ones are to be used during late winter and spring which can reduce weeds during the subsequent summer. In the occasion where a pre emergent herbicide was not used, then a post emergent one need to be applied to tackle the resultant weeds.
The Broadleaf summer weeds can be curbed by the use of a 3 way broadleaf weed herbicide. These may include weeds such as the spurge or lespedeza. Keep in mind that herbicides application in summer should be done only when the temperature is below 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
Also lawn mowing should be stopped three days prior to the application and two days post it. You must be able to identify your weeds properly to effectively use the herbicides and that too where weeds are actively growing and not to areas on the lawn which are suffering from other ailments such as drought/ heat stress.
March - May
If you notice small circular (1 to 3-inch in diameter), shaded, straw-colored spots in your lawn several weeks since the lawn has become green, it is likely an indicator of the dollar spot disease. Larger dead spots (1 to 3 feet in diameter) that appear during spring green-up indicate the presence of spring dead spot. Dry soil moisture conditions is one of the main reasons for dollar spot disease. When adequate soil moisture is provided, dollar spot is rarely a problem. It is also important to use proper watering techniques and adequate soil drainage. Low nitrogen also favors this disease development.
A patch of diseased turf afflicted by fungal diseases like dollar spot may differ from 2 to 6 inches in diameter and may slowly grow in size. Large patches may be several feet in diameter. Pay attention to the edges of the dying area. If it appears smoky brown and rotted, you will need to do a fungicide treatment. However, regular thatching and watering practices along with fertilization according to soil test recommendations can easily prevent these problems.
September - November/December
Some diseases such as spring dead spot can be active in the fall although there are no symptoms visible. If your lawn has a history of spring dead spot, applying fungicides during fall may be helpful.
Mowing should be done at a slightly raised height, once the night time temperatures start falling below 70 degrees. This will allow more leaf surface letting the turf to get acclimatized to the conditions before the first frost appears.
Depending on the results of your soil tests, potassium may be applied to enhance winter hardiness if the levels of potassium are low. Lime and sulfur may also be added if required though nitrogen should not be applied at this time.
Keep an eye on the weather forecast and if you see warm and sunny days preceding days forecasted to go to the low 20 degrees or even lower, it is important that the lawn is watered properly to prevent dehydration. If there is no rainfall, water as required to prevent heat stress.
Insects too should be controlled during this time especially the eggs that were missed during the earlier months, by using insecticides, highly recommended before the first frost.
Control diseases early on during the fall months of the year by treating the patches with fungicides. They are quite susceptible to diseases especially during September with bouts of warm temperatures followed by the possibility of excessive rainfall. Fungicide applications to control diseases is imperative as a turf once weakened during the fall months is very slow to gain recovery during the spring. Thus starting as early as October, preventive fungicide applications must be embarked upon.
For controlling weeds during this time a pre-emergent herbicide may be applied in September and another application can follow around 8-10 weeks later. It is crucial that you follow the directions mentioned on the labels of these herbicides as Bermuda grass is sensitive to some of them. Some particular herbicides to control annual winter bluegrass and grassy weeds can also be used.
July - August
While Bermuda Grass can handle most of the insects, there are some that eat the leaf blades and the roots voraciously. There are varieties of insects that can attack the Bermuda grass including crickets, beetles, grasshopper, round worms (nematodes), and many other types. The first symptom would be a brown patch in your lawn. However look for other causes before you start treating it for insects.
During the middle of the summer season, you will usually find the grass attacked by insects such as mole crickets and grub eggs hatch around this time. The most effective control at this stage when damage is at its minimum, is a targeted insecticide application which can really help.
If the problem persists and increases with time, then apply soil insecticides that are approved for Bermuda grass. Another way is to use the natural product Milky Spore. Although the second method may not kill all the insects, but the spores remain active for many years and therefore are effective in long term. Insecticides should be ideally applied once in a year.
In order to keep the nematodes in control, remove soil from the lawn equipment and keep it clean, and do not introduce soil from already infested areas.
March - August
You can replant large bare areas with sod or plugs of 6 or 12-inch size. You can also apply a pre-emergence herbicide to control weed encroachment. However you need to ensure that the herbicide does not impact the root growth after plugging. During this time Common Bermuda grass can be seeded at 0.5 to 1 pound per thousand square feet. Seeding in spring or early summer will make the winter Bermuda grass seedlings much healthier. The best time to replant in large bare areas is in the month of May, using sod, plugs or sprigs.
1) Check out Bermuda Grass
for a complete guide on Bermuda Grass and Lawn Care.
Viewers' Reviews and Comments
Leonard Alvarez (October 2015)
Hello, I have a large beautiful green Bermuda lawn. However when I cut it, usually once a week there will some areas that are brown. These areas turn green after a few days when the grass returns to its height before I cut it. The grass is about 5 to 6 inches in height. Any ideas?
Raj (bermuda-attractions.com) October 2015
Hi, it can happen in certain situations. The bottom most part of the grass (the crown) is usually brown, the stem too is brownish while the blade is green. If you cut more than one third of the grass, the brown part would be exposed but will become green when it grows in few days. Usually Bermuda grass is kept at a height of about 2 inches (and not 5-6 inches). The usual practice is to cut it (i.e. mow it) by one third when the grass grows to about 3 inches. If you follow this practice, you won't likely see the brown patch when you cut the grass.